Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.
Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.
Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.
Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.
Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.
Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow
Josephine supports indigenous Central American immigrant youth by representing them in removal proceedings, by improving medical-legal partnerships in New York, and by creating resources for culturally and trauma-informed representation.
In 2019, about a quarter of migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexican border were indigenous Mayans from Central America. New York is the third-highest receiver of unaccompanied immigrant children (UIC) nationally and is home to many Mayan communities. Mayan youth arriving in the United States face obstacles to accessing resources, including language barriers, discrimination, and alienation from formal legal, medical, and educational systems. Many are survivors of trauma and are likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
Before law school, Josephine worked to support indigenous communities fighting gender-based violence and historical wrongs in Guatemala. Throughout law school, she worked with asylum-seeking families and youth, including indigenous clients who were additionally harmed by the immigration system. Josephine believes that the indigenous peoples of Central America deserve legal services that acknowledge and affirm their full humanity in a system that falls short of doing so.
Fellowship Highlights to Date
During the first year of the Fellowship, Josephine has:
- Represented 25 unaccompanied children and three parents of children in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, Asylum, U-Visa, and other removal defense proceedings and provided legal consultations and referrals to another 13 clients
- Implemented training of legal, medical, mental health, and programmatic staff on working with Indigenous communities, reaching 100 individuals
- Created a screening tool for lawyers and legal assistants to use to screen Mayan youth in government custody and removal proceedings
- Met with four organizations seeking to replicate the project’s medical-legal partnership model in New York, New Orleans, and Baltimore
In the next year, Josephine plans to:
- Continue representation of Indigenous youth, including by implementing innovative strategies under quickly changing immigration law
- Expand screening tool to better assist legal providers in spotting asylum issues for Indigenous youth and create a guide for service providers
- Continue to develop partnerships to allow for holistic representation of unaccompanied youth
Kathryn prevented homeless families from being forced to sleep outside, on the subway, or in unsafe homes by providing know-your-rights materials and representing families when they were illegally denied shelter in New York City.
There is a right to shelter in New York City, but the City regularly denies shelter to eligible homeless families, forcing them to sleep in unsafe conditions. This project assisted these families at every stage of their shelter applications, including drafting informational materials, assisting them in obtaining evidence of their homelessness, and representing them at contest hearings surrounding unlawful denials of shelter. The project focused on those families that are most often illegally denied shelter, including domestic violence survivors, families with serious medical needs, families with limited English proficiency, and teenage families.
During her Fellowship, Kathryn:
- Developed know-your-rights materials that explain the shelter application process for homeless families
- Conducted outreach twice a week at Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH), the facility where homeless families apply for shelter
- Provided legal advice to more than 1,700 families entering PATH
- Represented 77 families who were wrongfully denied shelter (all of whom were found eligible or found alternative housing)
- Provided brief services to 89 families, including many families placed in medically-inappropriate shelter facilities
- Trained attorneys, social workers, and other advocates who work with homeless families on the right to shelter in New York City
- Participated in impact litigation involving Hurricane Sandy evacuees and homeless families
- Provided advocacy and advice to Hurricane Sandy evacuees
Kathryn remained at her host organization, The Legal Aid Society, as a Staff Attorney.
Alaina directly represented children whose cases involved domestic violence issues as Lawyers For Children’s (LFC) Domestic Violence Specialist at the Manhattan Family Court.
Need Addressed By Project
Family Court cases involving domestic violence are unique and highly complex family law proceedings that involve a number of moving parts. There can be a lot at stake: physical danger; psychological and developmental harm; the separation of children from their families, sometimes permanently; and potential trauma in foster care. Given the delicate subject matter and the inordinate number of domestic violence cases in the Manhattan Family Court, these cases require specialized expertise and the provision of dedicated, focused services. This project established LFC’s only dedicated Manhattan Family Court Domestic Violence Specialist. Additionally, this project provided a model for children’s attorneys in other Family Courts.
In the past two years, Alaina has:
• Represented 183 children (131 families) on 284 dockets in the Manhattan Family Court. These cases included high-conflict custody, family offense, abuse and neglect, foster care, and termination of parental rights dockets where clients were victims of or exposed to domestic violence.
• Counseled clients and advocated for their wishes by interviewing clients and their parents, filing and defending motions, engaging in discovery and evidentiary objections, negotiating settlements, preparing for trial, referring clients for therapy and other services, and advocating at daily hearings and trials.
• Created a guide for LFC’s teenage clients addressing how to identify healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to access domestic violence resources.
• Designed and implemented a survey that captured, for the first time, the percentage of cases at the Manhattan Family Court that involve domestic violence. The survey will be used in future systemic reform efforts.
Where are they now?
Now that the Fellowship is complete, Alaina will:
• Continue as LFC’s Domestic Violence Specialist in Manhattan Family Court, which has been made a permanent component of LFC’s programs and services.
• Work with LFC’s older clients in foster care who have started dating and are in emotionally and/or physically abusive relationships.
• Use skills gained over the past two years to advocate for case management reforms and other systemic reform efforts.
Seniors in Washington, DC are increasingly at risk of becoming homeless. The Housing Choice Voucher Program makes housing affordable for low-income individuals. It caps rent at 30 percent of the tenant’s income, and the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) provides the landlord a subsidy for the remaining rent. However, DCHA terminates its subsidy if the landlord fails to maintain the property. Tenants are then forced to move out or pay market rent with the risk of being evicted. Tenants with vouchers also face voucher discrimination in the District, as many landlords refuse to lease their properties to individuals with vouchers. Through early intervention, this project will work to prevent the unnecessary displacement of and the discrimination against low-income seniors who have housing vouchers.
In the past two years, Olivia has:
- Assisted nearly 200 seniors with vouchers in remaining housed and preserving their vouchers
Established an early referral pipeline between DCHA and LCE for at-risk seniors with vouchers
Submitted testimony to DC Council at DCHA’s oversight hearings in 2017 and 2018
- What’s NextCreated a training manual for the project
Now that the fellowship is complete, Olivia plans to:
- Complete a clerkship at the U.S. District Court of Connecticut
- Return to the District’s direct legal services community to continue advocating for individuals’ access to housing
Kaitlyn provided targeted representation to parents with physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities in child welfare cases so that they have an equal opportunity to maintain family integrity.
As a result of uninformed child welfare policies and the mistaken belief that people with disabilities are unfit to parent, parents with disabilities are disproportionately referred to child welfare services and experience removal of their children in up to 80% of cases. Yet studies have consistently found that there is no relationship between intelligence and parenting capabilities. Under Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act, parents with disabilities are entitled to protection from unlawful discrimination in the administration of child welfare programs. Despite their ADA protections, parents with disabilities rarely receive the accommodations to which they are entitled, which leads to the unnecessary separation of their families. Specialized representation of parents with disabilities that is grounded in access to appropriate resources, disability experts, and practice guides will improve attorneys’ abilities to demand the proper accommodations their clients need to overcome barriers to reunifying their families.
During the Fellowship period, Kaitlyn:
- Provided full representation to over 88 clients in child welfare cases
- Assisted 20 parents in reunifying with their children
- Assisted 42 parents successfully resolving and closing their child welfare cases
- Surveyed the services available to support parents with disabilities
- Provided training on the ADA for lawyers and advocates
Kaitlyn continues practicing at The Bronx Defenders as a staff attorney in their Family Defense Practice. Kaitlyn also continues her work representing parents with disabilities, as well as other parents involved in child welfare cases in the Bronx.